I’m playing a gig tonight at the Urban Coffee Company on Church Street, just off Colmore Row in Birmingham. I’m not sure how it’s going to go, cos although I booked it ages ago, thinking it’d be a good idea to test out some of the newer comedy songs in my expanding repertoire, I haven’t had the time to rehearse properly or even put together a decent set list. Never mind though, I suppose it’s just a question of winging it and seeing what works. I have long ago decided not to stress too much about live performances, you can always find something to beat yourself up about if you look hard enough, so it’s best to take each one in your stride.
And most importantly to remember that it’s supposed to be fun.
Which it usually is. I’m certainly not doing this for the money. Tonight’s venue, for instance, are paying me in food.
Yes. I am proud of myself, thanks for asking.
Perhaps I should start busking, but not actually playing music, just standing around with a guitar wearing a t-shirt saying “will play for food.” Then if someone hands me a burger I could turn around revealing writing on the reverse of the t-shirt saying “I meant VEGETARIAN food, of course, you imbecile.” Then the person would flip open the burger to show me it was a spicy beanburger or a Quorn burger or something. And that would be okay. So I’d sing them Hey Ya by Outkast or a similarly upbeat song. And then I’d stop and eat the burger while staring strangely at the person who brought it.
So come along tonight. Whatever happens, I promise to make it fun. Also, it’s free entry, and I’ve already been promised payment in food so you don’t have to bring burgers or anything.
I’ve not been updating the blog enough of late, for which I can only apologise. I have still been writing the entries, but I was caught up with finishing a second (unpublished) novel to go with my first (unpublished) novel. And also writing new songs. So my typing time has been limited, especially with the lead up to the performances of the Passion play. But I am sure that I will go back and fill in the gaps soon enough. Worry not. Oh, you weren’t worried? Fine! Sorry I cared!
It’s great weather today, which of course is torture for an ex-smoker like me. This is the perfect smoking weather, and everyone seems to have taken up smoking, and ordinarily the smell is unpleasant to me, like fumes, but combined with sunlight the scent is immediately irresistible.
But I will resist.
I am suffering. But I will resist.
To crack now (18 months in I believe) would be ridiculous and stupid. I will remain a martyr to my addiction. My performance as Jesus prepared me for this kind of pain. Being brutally tortured is nothing to the agony of sort-of wanting a cigarette every so often. Nothing, I tell you.
Hmm. I’ve been typing this up on my phone in the morning sun while waiting outside the Children’s Hospital (for reasons I won’t go into here.) And I’ve only just realised I was standing in the smoking area. No wonder everyone had a fucking cigarette. What a massive dick. Knowing I would have quite a wait, I gravitated naturally towards the place where smokers get relegated (like sub-humans or lepers. Which they are. So I have graduated to the status of ‘human’ purely by exercising self-control. Go me. I don’t really think this. I hate evangelistic ex-smokers.)
I’ve moved now. A nurse just came up to me, smiled, and said, “has the air ambulance landed?” I replied that I didn’t know, but that it’d be a hell of a thing for me to miss and wouldn’t say much for my general level of attentiveness. She laughed, but after she left I felt a bit unsettled and wondered if perhaps a helicopter could have landed on the roof of the building next to me without my noticing. It could happen. Especially as I’ve been concentrating on writing this. Longtime readers will know that I do dumb things when concentrating too hard on writing.
The helicopter is now landing. It turns out I’m unlikely to have missed it. What a dreamlike experience. I feel like I’m in a film. How the hell does that thing work? Up close it looks magical, just hovering in the air like that. I’ve taken a few photos and if any of them turn out OK I’ll put them up here, so check back.
So just to go back to the book-writing I mentioned earlier: last year I finished a novel, based on the character who appears in a short story of mine (in the ‘Writing’ section) which was published a few years ago in Structo Magazine. In early November, literally days after I finished a draft, I was at a launch party for another author’s (published) novel, (lucky bastard) and got talking to a few people, as one does. I was chatting to a guy about comedy (we both liked a lot of the same stuff such as Stewart Lee, etc) and I mentioned that I’d just written a book about a homicidal stand-up comedian.
I didn’t do a hard sell or anything, as we were just talking, but he said “ah well I work for AM Heath (which, unlearned reader, is one of the biggest literary agencies in the world.) He continued, “The book sounds really good. Send me a few chapters.” This seemed at once too good to be true and also EXACTLY like the sort of story that a young (ish) author might tell on Parkinson or Jonathan Ross: “, ah, the twist of fate that led to my rise to fame, etc.”
So next day I sprang into action (in as much as opening a laptop could be described as springing into action) and I sent the guy an initial speculative email reminding him who I was, just in case he was only being polite. He replied immediately, which was promising. I told him the title of the book which he recognised as being a reference to Bob Dylan (“if the book’s as good as the Dylan song, we’ll be laughing” was what he actually said.)
I really love Bob Dylan as you might already know, and it was a fairly obscure Dylan track so I saw this insight and musical knowledge as another really encouraging sign, thinking that if we shared tastes in comedy as well as music, surely we’d share tastes in writing: my own writing especially.
I spruced up the opening few chapters and fired them off to my man at AM Heath, happy in the knowledge that I had now secured my future and that I would now be able to provide for my family (and also prove everyone wrong who thinks I’m messing around wasting my life trying to earn money by writing and performing. Hmm.)
For a couple of months there was no response. I was a bit worried by that, but forced myself to relax. It’s a bit like the early stages of a relationship, I told myself. If you seem too keen, that can easily be interpreted as ‘desperate’ or even ‘psycho.’ Better to play it cool. I played it cool for another couple of weeks, then around Christmas I got worried that my Hotmail account had messed up. Occasionally it sends outgoing messages to my junk folder instead of to the intended recipient. So I wrote him a new email, just to say “hope you got the book, any feedback gratefully etc.”
He wrote back saying he’d liked it, particularly praising my writing style, but that he didn’t think it was right for the agency. Which is just a nice way of saying it didn’t grab him, really.
Fair enough of course, but even so I was terribly disappointed.
Chin up Rich, I thought. At least now you have a useful contact among the gatekeepers and decision-makers. Perhaps a different book, or an edited draft of the first one would be better received.
Sadly even this thin, trembling sliver of silver lining was to be denied me. I sent another email to suggest this and his reply was even more crushing. “I’m actually leaving the publishing business.”
So not only was my work not good enough to publish, it had made him want to leave the business altogether. And on top of that, he didn’t ever want to be sent anything of mine, not even to read casually in his free time. Can this be true? I’m inclined to believe it is, if only because I fail to see how saying to someone “Your writing has made me lose faith in my profession” could be thought to soften the blow of rejection. Especially when “no thanks, and don’t contact me again” would have done just as well.
All this made me feel really broken up and pointless, which is why I didn’t blog about it at the time. I don’t really know why I’m mentioning it now, there’s no moral to it and it’s not very amusing.
What we cannot change we must at least describe.
Still, eh. I don’t really have much choice other than to press on.
(Writing later, after the gig.)
It went awesomely well. In the end I was too nervous to eat beforehand so I did the gig for water. But I didn’t fuck up too much and I did several comedy routines as well as some of the darker songs. It was quiet at first but a full (ish) room by the end. Two Italian women were there and said Americano was very good and were encouraging about my attempts at the accent. My voice gave out at the end though.
My friend Emma recorded takes of Baby Blues and Your Slave (I think) and a new one called Man-Man about a superhero with no powers. So some of it should be on Youtube at some point. (It is- go here)
I got whoops and a round of applause on the solo-guitar-solo bit. Like at a proper jazz/blues gig. And I did my lengthy lovesong seduction deconstruction on Let There Be Love. (There’s a different version of this on my podcast, here. Although I mistakenly attribute it to Sinatra rather than Bennett at one point. Alcohol is a terrible thing.)
At the end I laughed and said “I’m glad I’ve wasted the last five minutes on the pointless dissection of that song.” A woman at the front said, “no, that was the best one yet,” and laughed. I pointed out that this was a backhanded compliment at best (as of course it was intended to be) and she laughed some more.
The folks who work at the Urban Coffee Company are some of the friendliest I’ve met so far. It’s so easy to get fed up in jobs like these (as I know from working in loads of pubs and clubs) so when you see people in a public-facing role who are outgoing and helpful, it really lifts the atmosphere of a place. I’ve never been there before but I’m certainly going again.
And I’m massively enjoying these shows that alternate between comedy and darker stuff. “You made us laugh and cry,” said my friend Linda, who’d come to see me play for the first time. That was exactly what I’d set out to do. Go me.
More gigs like this please.
Ideally for money.
Though food (or water) is fine too.